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Dramatic rise in the number of calls made to poisons centres about e-cigarettes


Source: Annems /

E-cigarettes are not required to be child-resistant so could pose a threat to children

Calls from members of the public to the national poisons information service (NPIS) about swallowing the liquid used in e-cigarettes rose from just 29 in 2012 to 139 in 2013.

Just over a third of the calls concerned children aged under four years, of whom 10 per cent needed hospital treatment, NHS England told PJ Online yesterday (8 April 2014).

In the previous five years the total number of calls relating to e-cigarettes was 36, it confirmed. 

John Thompson, director of the Public Health England-commissioned NPIS, said: “E-cigarette usage has increased significantly in recent years. The liquid found in e-cigarettes can be very harmful and I would urge anyone who uses e-cigarettes to make sure that the liquids are stored safely, and in particular away from children.”

The figures for England reflect a similar trend identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.

According to CDC statistics, the number of calls to its official poisons centres rose from just one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. Just over half the calls related to cases involving children aged under five years.

CDC director Tom Frieden said: “This report raises another red flag about e-cigarettes — the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be hazardous. Use of these products is skyrocketing and these poisonings will continue.

E-cigarette liquids as currently sold are a threat to small children because they are not required to be childproof, and they come in candy and fruit flavours that are appealing to children.”

The CDC said poisoning can occur by ingesting the liquid, inhaling it or absorbing it through the skin or eyes.

The statistics were based on calls to all 50 US poisons centres as well as those in Columbia and the US Territories. Data on calls concerning conventional cigarettes were also collected.

The centres reported 2,405 calls relating to exposure to e-cigarettes and 16,248 calls linked to conventional cigarettes.

The findings reflect the need for healthcare providers, distributors and manufacturers of e-cigarettes as well as the public to be made aware of the potential health risks they pose, the CDC said.   

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137147

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